The term of the chief executive

The term of the chief executive.

Views of Hamilton and Story :-

“The ingredients Which constitute energy in the executive, said Alexander Hamilton, are first, unity, secondly, duration, thirdly, an adequate provision  for its support, fourthly, competent powers.”

while those which constitute safety in the republican sense are, first, a due dependence on the people, secondly, a due responsibility. The element of duration was, he observed, necessary to secure personal firmness of the executive magistrate in the employment of his constitutional powers and to insure the stability of the system of administration which may have been adopted under his auspices.

Hamilton stood almost alone among the distinguished men who framed the constitution of the United States in advocating a good behavior tenure for the President, the idea being repugnant to the views of the majority of the delegates as being inconsistent with republican ideas, and hence it received little consideration at the hands of the convention.

Concerning the length of term sufficient to secure the elements of firmness in the executive and stability in the administration, Hamilton declared that the longer the duration in office the greater will be the probability of obtaining so important an advantage.

In this opinion Judge Story fully concurred. Few men, he declared, would be willing to commit themselves to a course of policy whose wisdom might be perfectly clear to themselves if they could pot be permitted to complete what they had began of what consequence, he observed, will it be to form the best plans of executive administration, if they are perpetually passing into new hands before they are matured, or may be defeated at the moment when their reasonableness and their value cannot be understood or realized by the public-who will plant when he can never reap ?

Practice of States :

That the term of the chief executive ought to be long enough to secure these advantages no one will deny, but as to what this period is, the testimony of political writers and the practice of states differ. In practice, the executive tenure ranges from two years, which is the rule in many of the North American states, to seven years, which is the term of the presidents of the French Republic, Portugal, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Venezuela.

In the state of New Jersey the executive has a three-year term the remaining states are divided about equally between two and four year terms. The term of the Swiss Executive Council is three years that of the presidents of the United States, Brazil, and Austria, four years, the presidents of Peru and China are chosen for live years and those of Chile, Argentina, Mexico, and Finland, for six years.

The titular chief executives of the self-governing dominions of Great Britain hold during the pleasure of the crown and the cabinets in these and all other states having the cabinet system of government hold Office, of course, so long as they are able to command the support of the legislature.

Arguments for and against Short Terms :

The argument in favor of short tenures for the executive is that the shorter the term of office the greater the security against abuses of power  and conversely, the longer the term, the less will be the means of enforcing responsibility and the greater the personal ambition of the executive. The belief has always been widespread in democratic countries that executives with long tenures are exposed to a strong temptation to transform their offices by means of a coup d’etat into monarchical tenures as Napoleon did ,when he converted his consulship of ten years into one for life and then into an imperial office. On the other hand, as Judge Story remarked the testimony of experience shows that a very short term is, practically speaking, equivalent to a surrender of the executive power as a check in government, and besides leads to an intolerable vacillation and imbecility.

A man is apt to take a slender interest,said Hamilton, in so short lived an advantage and to feel little inducement to expose himself to any considerable in convenience or hazard. The most, he added, that could be expected of the majority of men in such positions would be the negative merit of not doing harm instead of the positive merit of doing good.

Moreover, unless the practice of reelection is followed, the office must continually be occupied by an inexperienced executive, since he cannot acquire any considerable degree of familiarity with its duties in so brief a period. Finally, short tenures necessitate a frequent recurrence of elections, with the inevitable distractions and disturbance to business that are inseparable from important political contests.

A four-year tenure has much more to commend it. It is a period, observed Chancellor Kent, perhaps reasonably long enough to make the executive feel firm and independent in the discharge of his trust and to give stability and some degree of maturity to his system of administration and certainly short enough to place him under a dire sense of dependence on the public approbation. At all events, it is not long enough, as Judge Story remarked, to justify any alarms for the public safety.

On the other hand, a six year or seven-year term would seem to be unduly long under a system in which the president actually exercises the powers conferred upon him and where he is supposed to be responsible to those who elect him, for the manner in which he exercises them. A responsibility which cannot be enforced at shorter intervals than once in six or seven years manifestly loses much of its effectiveness

The Question of Re eligibility :

Closely connected with the length of term is the question of re eligibility of the chief executive to a second term. The constitution of the United States, which fixes the term of the President at four years, expressly declares that he shall be eligible to succeed himself and there is no constitutional limitation as to the number of terms which he may serve. Tradition and custom, however, have limited the number to two, and, with two exceptions, no incumbent of the office has ever attempted to break this Well-established rule, while several have refused to be candidates for a third term in the face of a public sentiment which apparently demanded their reelection.

This usage, observed Chancellor Kent, has indirectly established by the force of public opinion a salutary limitation to his capacity for a continuance in office. The constitution of the Southern Confederacy fixed the term of the executive at six years and declared the President ineligible to succeed himself, and this , principle has been introduced into the constitutions of a few states, for example Portugal (term 7 years) and Mexico (term 6 years).

The constitution of Mexico in 1857 fixed the term of the president at six years and was silent on the question of re eligibility. Under it Diaz was reelected for six successive terms. The constitution of 1917, however (which fixed the term at four years, later changed again to six), declares the president ineligible to reelection.

In some states the president is ineligible to succeed himself but is re eligible after the lapse of an intervening term. Among these are Brazil,Chile,Argentina, Spain, and Peru. The constitutions of China, Austria, and Czechoslovakia allow the president to serve two terms after which he is ineligible to reelection. The German constitution, which fixes the term bf the president at seven years, expressly declares that he is eligible to reelection. But this provision was the object of criticism by the Social Democrats, who argued for a shorter term-five years -coupled with ineligibility to reelection.

The president of the French Republic, although possessing the long term of seven years, is eligible to succeed himself. But a custom now definitely established limits him to a single term. Only one president (Grévy) has ever been reelected to a second term. None of his successors have been candidates for reelection , in fact most of them have declared in their messages of thanks at the beginning of their terms, or otherwise made known their intention, that they would not seek a reelection. It may, therefore, now be said that the single-term tradition has become an established rule of French constitutional practice.

Arguments in Favor of a Single Term :

The principal argument in favor of restricting the executive to a single term is that it would serve as a check upon his personal ambition and prevent him from a cringing subserviency to procure his reelection or from resorting to corrupt intrigues for the maintenance of his power.  If the chief executive may immediately succeed himself, it is contended, the value of short terms is in effect destroyed. Ineligibility to a second term, therefore, would tend to secure greater independence in the executive and at the same time greater security to the people. An executive capable of succeeding himself is exposed to a strong temptation to conduct his administration with the one end in view of securing a reelection.

Writing on this point about a century ago, De Tocqueville declared. It is impossible to consider the ordinary course of affairs in the United States without perceiving that the desire of being reelected is the chief aim of the President that his Whole administration, and even his most indifferent measures, tend to this object and that, as the crisis approaches, his personal interest takes the place of his interest in the public good.

The principle Of reeligibility renders the corrupt influence of elective government still more extensive and pernicious. It tends to degrade the political morality of the people, and, to substitute adroitness for patriotism. Again he affirmed, what cannot be denied, that whatever the prerogatives of the executive power may be the period which immediately precedes an election, and the moment of its duration, must always be considered as a national crisis, Which is perilous in proportion to the internal embarrassments and the external dangers of the country.

Moreover, if the executive -may succeed himself, a large portion of the latter part-of its first term will be occupied with matters relating to his candidacy,to the neglect of his official duties. On this point De Tocqueville truthfully remarked that at the approach of an election the head of the executive government is wholly occupied by the coming struggle, his future plans are doubtful, he can undertake nothing new, and he will only prosecute with indifference those designs which another will perhaps terminate.

Movement in the United States to Limit the President to a Single Term :

In recent years there has developed considerable sentiment in the United States in favor of lengthening the term of the President and making him ineligible to succeed himself. As is well known, the convention which framed the constitution originally agreed upon a seven-year term for the President without the privilege of reelection, but when it was decided that he should not be elected by Congress, the main objection to reeligibility Was removed.

In 1912 President Wilson was elected on a platform which pronounced in favor of a constitutional amendment making the President ineligible to reelection, although he himself did not approve it and in fact declared against it. In 1913 the Senate by a vote of 47 to 23 adopted a resolution to amend the constitution so as to fix the presidential term at six years and rendering the occupant of the office ineligible to a second term.

The Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives made a favorable report on the proposal. In its report it enumerated the following reasons in support of the amendment first, it would remove the temptation which the President is under to use improperly the powers and patronage of his office to obtain a reelection, second, it would tend to improve the administration of the laws generally and to increase the nonpartisan and businesslike efficiency of the executive department by taking away from the President all inducement to build up a political machine instead of attending to his duties as chief magistrate of the ,republic and third, it would save the President from the humiliating necessity of going on the stump to repel assaults made upon him. The resolution, however, never came to a vote in the house, though there is still much sentiment in favor of the preposed change.

Arguments in Favor of Re eligibility :

To many minds, however, the advantages of re eligibility are greater than the disadvantages. By-no one were those advantages more clearly and forcibly stated than by Hamilton in The Federalist. The re eligibility of the executive is necessary, he declared, to enable the people, when they see reason to approve of his conduct, to continue him in the station in order to prolong the utility of his talents and virtues, and to secure to the government the advantage of permanency in a wise system of administration.

First of all, the restriction of the executive to a single brief term would tend to diminish the inducements to good behavior. There are few men, he ob served, who would not feel much less zeal in the discharge of a duty when they were conscious that the advantages of the station with which it was connected must be relinquished at a determinate period, than when they were permitted to entertain a hope of obtaining, by meriting, a continuance of them.

The desire of reward and fame, he continued, is one of the strongest incentives of human conduct and the best security for the fidelity of mankind is to make their interest coincide with their duty. Furthermore, the rule of ineligibility would tend to create in the executive a propensity to make the best use of his opportunity, while it lasted, for promoting his personal ends, and he might not scruple to resort to the most corrupt expedients to make the harvest as abundant as it was transitory. There is, said Hamilton, an excess of refinement in the idea of disabling the people from continuing in office those who have entitled themselves to the public approbation and confidence.

If, he argued, the executive could expect to prolong his honors by his good conduct he might hesitate to sacrifice his appetite for gain.  But with the prospect before him of approaching an inevitable annihilation, his avarice would be likely to get the victory over his caution, his vanity, or his ambition.

In the next place the effect would sometimes be to deprive the state of the services of a wise and experienced official by compelling him to abandon his office at the very time when by reason of his experience he is best fitted to serve it. It would, said Judge Story, be equivalent to banishing merit from the public councils because it had been tried.

What could be more strange, observed this distinguished jurist, than to declare at the moment when wisdom was acquired that the possessor of it should no longer be enabled to use it for the very purpose for which it was acquired.

Finally it would, to quote Hamilton again, Operate as a constitutional interdiction of stability in the administration. Every election would be followed by an interruption in the continuity of executive policies and the latter part of each term would be a period of doubt of weakness, and passive inactivity. The administration, in short, would drift along without plan or policy.

In conclusion :

it may be observed that the wisdom and expediency of restricting the chief executive to a single term necessarily depend to a large extent upon the length of the term and the extent of the power’s which he actually exercises. Manifestly , an executive with a term of six or seven years might be made ,ineligible to a second term with far less impropriety than one whose term is two years, for the obvious reason that his responsibility would be greatly diminished and his means of influence and patronage immensely increased so as to check in a great measure the just expression of public opinion and the free exercise-of the elective franchise. Likewise there would be no great danger in the perpetual re eligibility of a president, like that of France, who is merely a titular figurehead with few powers which he can actually exercise.